By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
Jim Lee reached some rare air Thursday, when he was introduced as co-publisher of the renamed DC Entertainment. The move makes him the highest-ranking Asian-American working for the comics industry’s Big Two (Cuban-American Joe Quesada is Editor-In-Chief at DC’s nemesis, Marvel). It also places Lee, who has already been running DC’s WildStorm imprint since its’ inception in 1998, in prime position to help the company move in a more progressive direction – one DCE’s animation division has seemingly had no problem embracing for the past decade.
The latest example of this trend has been Batman: The Brave And The Bold, which has featured POC characters since debuting in 2008. The series’ first episode, for instance, featured Jaime Reyes as the Blue Beetle. (DC Comics took advantage of this exposure by cancelling the Blue Beetle comic book the very week the episode aired.) More recently, BATB has featured the second Atom, Ryan Choi and the newest Firestorm, Jason Rusch.
But DC’s positive run actually kicked off in 2000, when Static Shock debuted. It scored three Daytime Emmy nominations in four years, winning one in 2003. So how could a show featuring a black character win both critical and commercial praise on TV after being part of the ill-fated Milestone Comics line? Well, as Static’s creator, Dwayne McDuffie told me last year:
“It was available to kids who hadn’t made up their minds about what superhero was cool yet. They like this guy. They didn’t know they were supposed to like Green Lantern more. It’s easier to win over a new audience than someone who’s been reading Barry Allen as The Flash for 30 years and can’t let it go that he’s been dead for 30 years and need to see Barry Allen again. There’s a racial component to that, but probably a bigger piece is old guys stuck in the mud.”
McDuffie also had a hand in the next instance of a black character getting to shine in a DC Animated Series, as part of the creative team for the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series. This incarnation of the League not only featured a black Green Lantern in John Stewart, but also devoted screen time to both an IR romance between himself and Hawkgirl and a relationship Stewart went on to enjoy with Vixen, another black character. Considering that, when the series started, Stewart probably ranked lower on the comic-book totem-pole than four white Green Lanterns, Stewart’s emergence was a welcome sight, and he’s emerged to become a bigger player in GL comic-book canon because of it.
So, even if it’s Geoff Johns who is in charge of “shepherding” the DC/Vertigo/WildStorm characters across media platforms, Lee’s ascension, one would think, would allow him to speak up for characters like Reyes, Rusch and Choi – positive POC characters that, though it’s leery to admit, the comic-book industry is going to need to develop in order to attract new readers, rather than rely on re-re-re-re-revisiting the Silver Age for an audience that’s only getting older.